Support for Marine Park Protections

(4.50pm 25 August 2011, Parliament House Sydney)

I oppose the Marine Parks Amendment (Moratorium) Bill 2011 which puts a five-year moratorium on new and expanded marine parks and sanctuary zones while another scientific audit of marine parks is carried out. Australia has the most biologically diverse waters on the planet and 70 per cent of the fish in New South Wales are found only in Australia. But the future of our waters is dire. The 2009 New South Wales State of Environment report identifies 45 aquatic species and communities listed as vulnerable, endangered or extinct. This includes 22 per cent of fish species and communities. Eight of the 23 key commercial fish species are currently overfished, with populations of three species decreasing. Monitoring of New South Wales marine ecosystems and fisheries shows that there is not only a threat of deterioration in biological diversity, but that it is happening as we speak.

In the past 50 years, 90 per cent of the world's big fish have been eaten and 50 per cent of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed. It has been widely reported that the world's commercial fisheries will collapse by 2048 if action is not taken now to protect them. The World Conservation Union has set a target for sanctuary protection of 20 to 30 per cent of global waters. In New South Wales this protection is less than 7 per cent of waters. Marine parks and sanctuary zones have overwhelming scientific support. No-take marine sanctuaries have been shown to double fish and invertebrate densities, triple biomass, increase mean fish sizes by 20 to 30 per cent, boost the number of species by 23 per cent, quadruple catch per unit efforts in nearby waters, and make marine ecosystems 21 per cent less vulnerable to environmental change. Marine sanctuaries also provide tourism, education and research opportunities.

The current marine parks framework is a proven system. One million dollars a year is already spent on scientific evaluation and there is extensive stakeholder and community consultation. Just two years ago the framework was assessed by an independent review panel, with recommendations incorporated into the Marine Parks Strategic Research Framework 2010-2015. Overall the panel was satisfied with the existing framework and the quality of the scientific research. It did not identify any issues that could possibly warrant an emergency intervention such as the proposed moratorium. There was no need for another audit. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Australia has agreed to a precautionary approach to biodiversity conservation. This means, and I quote from the Convention:

Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimise such a threat.

Fishing is allowed in the majority of marine parks and this is balanced by fully-protected sanctuary zones where marine life can surge back to life, benefiting anglers and the fishing industry as adjacent fish stocks increase. In marine parks, scientists can monitor the waters and work to overcome threats to marine life. I understand that anglers are concerned about losing some of their favourite fishing spots, but marine parks and sanctuary zones are vital for the sustainability of marine ecosystems. As members of Parliament and leaders in our community it is our role to make the difficult decisions that protect marine biodiversity, the long-term future of the fishing industry and our food supply.

We should educate the fishing community about the benefits of protecting waters; not pander to their fears for political gain. We should continue to provide structural adjustment assistance for affected commercial fishing communities. While overfishing may not be the only threat to our waters, it is a serious threat to future marine habitat. There is strong international and local consensus that marine parks and sanctuary zones can effectively strengthen marine biodiversity and populations, and make them more resilient to other threats, such as climate change. If the Government is sincere about taking the politics out of marine parks, it ought to leave decisions about their creation and zoning to the experts, with input from all stakeholders.

That means the Marine Parks Authority, the advisory council and local communities; not minority political parties with vested short-term interests. Environmental groups report that the New South Wales Government is the only government in the world voting to remove marine protection rather than expand it. Any member who supports this bill should be ashamed of the dire legacy they are creating for future generations. In supporting this bill, members are risking the future of our waters and our food supply. This is an outrageous bill and I condemn it to the House.